Sylvia (ballet)
Overview
 
Sylvia, originally Sylvia, ou La nymphe de Diane, is a full-length ballet
Ballet
Ballet is a type of performance dance, that originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century, and which was further developed in France and Russia as a concert dance form. The early portions preceded the invention of the proscenium stage and were presented in large chambers with...

 in two or three acts, first choreographed
Choreography
Choreography is the art of designing sequences of movements in which motion, form, or both are specified. Choreography may also refer to the design itself, which is sometimes expressed by means of dance notation. The word choreography literally means "dance-writing" from the Greek words "χορεία" ...

 by Louis Mérante
Louis Mérante
Louis Alexandre Mérante was a dancer and choreographer, the Maître de Ballet of the Paris Opera Ballet at the Salle Le Peletier until its destruction by fire in 1873, and subsequently the first Ballet Master at the company's new Palais Garnier, which opened in 1875...

 to music by Léo Delibes
Léo Delibes
Clément Philibert Léo Delibes was a French composer of ballets, operas, and other works for the stage...

 in 1876. Sylvia is a typical classical ballet in many respects, yet it has many interesting features which make it unique. Sylvia is notable for its mythological Arcadian setting, creative choreographies, expansive sets and, above all, its remarkable score.

The ballet's origins are in Tasso's
Torquato Tasso
Torquato Tasso was an Italian poet of the 16th century, best known for his poem La Gerusalemme liberata , in which he depicts a highly imaginative version of the combats between Christians and Muslims at the end of the First Crusade, during the siege of Jerusalem...

 1573 poem Aminta
Aminta
Aminta is a play written by Torquato Tasso in 1573, represented during a garden party at the court of Ferrara. Both the actors and the public were noble persons living at the Court, who could understand subtle allusions the poet made to that style of life, in contrast with the life of shepherds,...

, which provides the basic plot of Delibes' work.
Encyclopedia
Sylvia, originally Sylvia, ou La nymphe de Diane, is a full-length ballet
Ballet
Ballet is a type of performance dance, that originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century, and which was further developed in France and Russia as a concert dance form. The early portions preceded the invention of the proscenium stage and were presented in large chambers with...

 in two or three acts, first choreographed
Choreography
Choreography is the art of designing sequences of movements in which motion, form, or both are specified. Choreography may also refer to the design itself, which is sometimes expressed by means of dance notation. The word choreography literally means "dance-writing" from the Greek words "χορεία" ...

 by Louis Mérante
Louis Mérante
Louis Alexandre Mérante was a dancer and choreographer, the Maître de Ballet of the Paris Opera Ballet at the Salle Le Peletier until its destruction by fire in 1873, and subsequently the first Ballet Master at the company's new Palais Garnier, which opened in 1875...

 to music by Léo Delibes
Léo Delibes
Clément Philibert Léo Delibes was a French composer of ballets, operas, and other works for the stage...

 in 1876. Sylvia is a typical classical ballet in many respects, yet it has many interesting features which make it unique. Sylvia is notable for its mythological Arcadian setting, creative choreographies, expansive sets and, above all, its remarkable score.

The ballet's origins are in Tasso's
Torquato Tasso
Torquato Tasso was an Italian poet of the 16th century, best known for his poem La Gerusalemme liberata , in which he depicts a highly imaginative version of the combats between Christians and Muslims at the end of the First Crusade, during the siege of Jerusalem...

 1573 poem Aminta
Aminta
Aminta is a play written by Torquato Tasso in 1573, represented during a garden party at the court of Ferrara. Both the actors and the public were noble persons living at the Court, who could understand subtle allusions the poet made to that style of life, in contrast with the life of shepherds,...

, which provides the basic plot of Delibes' work. Jules Barbier
Jules Barbier
Paul Jules Barbier was a French poet, writer and opera librettist who often wrote in collaboration with Michel Carré...

 and Baron de Reinach
Jacques de Reinach
Baron Jacob Adolphe Reinach , known as Jacques de Reinach was a French banker of Jewish German origin, involved in many major financial affairs of the era and finally brought down by the Panama scandal...

 adapted this for the Paris Opera
Paris Opera Ballet
The Paris Opera Ballet is the oldest national ballet company in the world, and many European and international ballet companies can trace their origins to it...

. The piano arrangement was composed in 1876 and the orchestral suite was done in 1880.

When Sylvia premièred on Wednesday, June 14, 1876 at the Palais Garnier
Palais Garnier
The Palais Garnier, , is an elegant 1,979-seat opera house, which was built from 1861 to 1875 for the Paris Opera. It was originally called the Salle des Capucines because of its location on the Boulevard des Capucines in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, but soon became known as the Palais Garnier...

, it went largely unnoticed. In fact, the first seven productions of Sylvia were not successful. It was the 1952 revival, choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton
Frederick Ashton
Sir Frederick William Mallandaine Ashton OM, CH, CBE was a leading international dancer and choreographer. He is most noted as the founder choreographer of The Royal Ballet in London, but also worked as a director and choreographer of opera, film and theatre revues.-Early life:Ashton was born at...

, that popularized the ballet. Ashton's success set the stage for the 1997, 2004, 2005 and 2009 productions, all of which were based on his 1952 choreography.

Preparations

In 1875 the Paris Opera
Paris Opera Ballet
The Paris Opera Ballet is the oldest national ballet company in the world, and many European and international ballet companies can trace their origins to it...

 chose Barbier and Reinach's libretto
Libretto
A libretto is the text used in an extended musical work such as an opera, operetta, masque, oratorio, cantata, or musical. The term "libretto" is also sometimes used to refer to the text of major liturgical works, such as mass, requiem, and sacred cantata, or even the story line of a...

 for Sylvia. Mérante was also chosen to choreograph Sylvia based primarily on his extensive experience in the field and position as the premier maître de ballet at Paris Opera. All other reasonable choreographers were at the time unavailable.

Rehearsals for Sylvia begin on August 15, 1875, with only the first third of the music intact. Throughout the rehearsal period the score was under constant revision by Delibes, often with the "aid" of Mérante and Rita Sangalli who would each dance a lead rôle. This development of the score was a grueling process of many revisions and restarts. Mérante was especially demanding of Delibes and would regularly request changes to the score to accommodate his choreography, yet Léo Delibes made the changes requested of him in a timely fashion.

1876: Paris Opera Ballet; Mérante

Sylvia, ou la nymphe de Diane, as it was originally titled, was the first ballet to be shown at the newly constructed Opera Garnier
Palais Garnier
The Palais Garnier, , is an elegant 1,979-seat opera house, which was built from 1861 to 1875 for the Paris Opera. It was originally called the Salle des Capucines because of its location on the Boulevard des Capucines in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, but soon became known as the Palais Garnier...

 and it did so with extravagance. This approach proved at times excessive. The lavish scenery of Jules Chéret
Jules Chéret
Jules Chéret was a French painter and lithographer who became a master of Belle Époque poster art. He has been called the father of the modern poster. -Biography:...

 was poorly lit, detracting from the quality of the production. The costumes designed by Lacoste were well appreciated, however. In the end it was Delibes' score which saved the production. Without such highly esteemed music, the ballet would have soon drifted into obscurity.

At the age of 27, Rita Sangalli was the principal ballerina at the Opéra, and thus the obvious choice to star as Sylvia. Sangalli was described as having a "superb physique", but not spectacular dancing skills. Nonetheless, she was the only ballerina taught the rôle, and on one occasion the ballet had to be temporarily closed when she injured herself.

1901: The Imperial Ballet; Ivanov and Gerdt

Among the first important versions of Sylvia, ou la nymphe de Diane following the original production of 1876 was a production presented by the Imperial Ballet
Mariinsky Ballet
The Mariinsky Ballet is a classical ballet company based at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Founded in the 18th century and originally known as the Imperial Russian Ballet, the Mariinsky Ballet is one of the world's leading ballet companies...

 at the Mariinsky Theatre
Mariinsky Theatre
The Mariinsky Theatre is a historic theatre of opera and ballet in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Opened in 1860, it became the preeminent music theatre of late 19th century Russia, where many of the stage masterpieces of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov received their premieres. The...

 in St. Petersburg, Russia on . The ballet had been performed in Russia before: in 1886 the ballerina Antonietta Dell'Era (noted for creating the rôle of the Sugarplum Fairy in The Nutcracker
The Nutcracker
The Nutcracker is a two-act ballet, originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The libretto is adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann's story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King". It was given its première at the Mariinsky Theatre in St...

in 1892) performed excerpts from the ballet at the Arcadia Theatre of St. Petersburg, and in 1892 the ballerina Carlotta Brianza (noted creator of the rôle of Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty in 1890) performed the full-length work at the Fantasia Theatre in Moscow.
The Mariinsky Theatre's production was originally planned for the 1900–1901 season in a staging supervised by Sergei Diaghilev
Sergei Diaghilev
Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev , usually referred to outside of Russia as Serge, was a Russian art critic, patron, ballet impresario and founder of the Ballets Russes, from which many famous dancers and choreographers would arise.-Early life and career:...

, with décors and costumes designed by Alexandre Benois
Alexandre Benois
Alexandre Nikolayevich Benois , an influential artist, art critic, historian, preservationist, and founding member of Mir iskusstva , an art movement and magazine...

 and choreography by the brothers Sergei and Nikolai Legat. But differences between Diaghilev and the director of the Imperial Theatres, Prince Volkonsky, led to the project's cancellation as well as the end of Diaghilev's association with the Imperial Theatres, an event which led Diaghilev to eventually form the original Ballets Russes
Ballets Russes
The Ballets Russes was an itinerant ballet company from Russia which performed between 1909 and 1929 in many countries. Directed by Sergei Diaghilev, it is regarded as the greatest ballet company of the 20th century. Many of its dancers originated from the Imperial Ballet of Saint Petersburg...

 in 1909. Nevertheless the ballet was re-scheduled for the 1901–1902 season in a version mounted by the Imperial Theatre's Deuxieme Maître de Ballet Lev Ivanov
Lev Ivanov
Lev Ivanovich Ivanov was a Russian ballet dancer and choreographer and later, Second Balletmaster of the Imperial Ballet....

, whose death in December 1901 caused the direction to hand the project over to the noted Premier danseur Pavel Gerdt
Pavel Gerdt
Pavel Andreyevich Gerdt, also known as Paul Gerdt , was the Premier Danseur Noble of the Imperial Ballet, the Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, and the Mariinsky Theatre for 56 years, making his debut in 1860, and retiring in 1916...

. Perhaps Ivanov's most lasting contribution to the ballet's history was the change of title from Sylvia, ou la nymphe de Diane to simply Sylvia.

The cast included the great Prima ballerina Olga Preobrajenska
Olga Preobrajenska
Olga Iosifovna Preobrajenska was probably the best loved ballerina of the Russian Imperial Ballet....

 in the title rôle and the danseur Sergei Legat as the shepherd Aminta. Also included among the ballet's secondary characters was a young Agrippina Vaganova
Agrippina Vaganova
Agrippina Yakovlevna Vaganova was an outstanding Russian ballet teacher who developed the Vaganova method - the technique which derived from the teaching methods of the old Imperial Ballet School under the Premier Maître de Ballet Marius Petipa throughout the mid to late 19th century, though...

 as a nymph of the Goddess Diana, and Pavel Gerdt in the rôle of Orion.

Although the dances of the ballerina Preobrajenska were a great success, the first performance was not. Many critics complained that the Ivanov/Gerdt choreography was of poor quality, and that the libretto was extremely slight. Another element that contributed to the ballet's failure was the fact that the direction did not allow any new décors to be created, and instead sets were utilized from works that were no longer being performed. After only five performances Sylvia was taken out of the company's repertory. In spite of this, excerpts from the ballet were included in gala events.

The ballerina Anna Pavlova included many of these extracts from the 1902 production on her world tours in a revised staging by balletmaster Ivan Clustine. In attendance for one of her London appearances was a young Frederick Ashton
Frederick Ashton
Sir Frederick William Mallandaine Ashton OM, CH, CBE was a leading international dancer and choreographer. He is most noted as the founder choreographer of The Royal Ballet in London, but also worked as a director and choreographer of opera, film and theatre revues.-Early life:Ashton was born at...

, whose memories of Pavlova's performance would inspire him to create his own renowned version for the ballerina Margot Fonteyn
Margot Fonteyn
Dame Margot Fonteyn de Arias, DBE , was an English ballerina of the 20th century. She is widely regarded as one of the greatest classical ballet dancers of all time...

 in 1952.

1952: The Royal Ballet; Ashton

Ashton re-choreographed Sylvia in 1952. As the story goes, what sparked Ashton's interest in Sylvia was a dream he had in 1946. In the dream, Delibes charged Ashton with revitalizing his under-appreciated ballet and Ashton, upon waking, took up the task. The master choreographed Sylvia with a strong emphasis on the lead rôle; in fact he designed the entire ballet as a tribute to Margot Fonteyn
Margot Fonteyn
Dame Margot Fonteyn de Arias, DBE , was an English ballerina of the 20th century. She is widely regarded as one of the greatest classical ballet dancers of all time...

, a dancer with whom he worked. Clive Barnes, an American drama critic, noted, "the whole ballet is a garland presented to the ballerina by her choreographer." This "garland" was produced by The Royal Ballet and it was first performed at The Royal Opera House in London on September 3, 1952. Ashton also tweaked Barbier's libretto
Libretto
A libretto is the text used in an extended musical work such as an opera, operetta, masque, oratorio, cantata, or musical. The term "libretto" is also sometimes used to refer to the text of major liturgical works, such as mass, requiem, and sacred cantata, or even the story line of a...

 for the première to maximize interest in the story.

Margot Fonteyn played the lead rôle of Sylvia when this version opened. Aminta was played by Michael Somes
Michael Somes
Michael George Somes CBE , was a leading English ballet dancer. He was a principal danseur of the Royal Ballet, London, and was the frequent partner of Margot Fonteyn....

, Orion by John Hart
John Hart (actor)
John Hart was an American motion picture and television actor, born in Los Angeles, California. In his early career, he appeared mostly in Westerns...

 and Eros by Alexander Grant
Alexander Grant (dancer)
Alexander Grant was a ballet dancer noted as a founder member of the Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet and as a dancer with The Royal Ballet.- Overview :...

.

2004: San Francisco Ballet; Morris

When the San Francisco Ballet
San Francisco Ballet
The San Francisco Ballet is a ballet company, founded in 1933 as the San Francisco Opera Ballet. The company is currently based in the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, under the direction of Helgi Tomasson. SFB is the first professional ballet company in the United States...

 opened their production of Sylvia in April 2004, it was the first time that the full ballet was shown in the United States. This production is also the only recent one not to be based on Ashton's work. At the request of Helgi Tomasson, Mark Morris
Mark Morris
Mark William Morris is an American dancer, choreographer and director whose work is acclaimed for its craftsmanship, ingenuity, humor, and at times eclectic musical accompaniments...

 choreographed it based on the original 1876 production and adhered quite closely to Mérante's methodology and style. As Morris said, "I'm using the score and libretto exactly as they're built". Morris's reasoning behind this is quite simple: the nature of the music is inextricably intertwined with Louis Mérante's choreography, a consequence of the circumstances of composition. Because of this, Morris's revival of Sylvia is very true to the original, more so than any other recent production. The San Francisco Ballet performed Sylvia from April 21, 2006 through May 7 of that year after successful runs in 2004 and 2005. At the première in 2004, the lead was Yuan Yuan Tan
Yuan Yuan Tan
Yuanyuan Tan She won multiple international awards at an early age; including a gold medal and the Nijinsky Award at the 1st Japan International Ballet and Modern Dance Competition and a gold medal in the 5th International Ballet Competition in Paris . At age 18, she became a soloist dancer with...

.

2004: Royal Ballet; Ashton

This production of Sylvia, the Royal Ballet's third, performed November 4 to December 3, 2004, as a part of the "Ashton 100" celebration, a season dedicated to the company's founder. The ballet was recreated by Christopher Newton
Christopher Newton
Christopher Newton is a Canadian director and actor and served as Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival from 1980-2002.Newton was born in England and educated at Sir Roger Manwood's School in Kent, the University of Leeds, Purdue University in Indiana and the University of Illinois, where he...

 who (from both mental and visual records) reconstructed Ashton's original choreography and staged it for the Royal Ballet. While it ran, there were three different casts. The first consisted of Darcey Bussell
Darcey Bussell
Darcey Andrea Bussell CBE is a retired English ballerina. Trained at the Arts Educational School and the Royal Ballet School, she was later employed by the Royal Ballet, where she was promoted to the rank of Principal Dancer and would become recognised as one of the greatest English ballerinas of...

 and Jonathan Cope, the second of Zenaida Yanowsky
Zenaida Yanowsky
Zenaida Yanowsky is a Principal Dancer with the Royal Ballet in London.-Early life:Both of her parents, Anatol Yanowsky and Carmen Robles, were dancers with the Lyon Opera Ballet. Later, the family moved to settle in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, where her parents set up a dance school...

 and David Makhateli
David Makhateli
David Makhateli is a Georgian ballet dancer and a Principal of the Royal Ballet in London, England.-Biography:David Makhateli was born in Tbilisi, Georgia and began training in classical ballet at the State Choreographic Institute in Tbilisi...

 and the third of Marianela Núñez
Marianela Nunez
Marianela Núñez is an Argentine dancer. She is a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, London.-Biography:Núñez was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina...

 and Rupert Pennefather
Rupert Pennefather
Rupert Pennefather is a principal dancer in the Royal Ballet Company. He was promoted to principal status alongside his pas-de-deux partner Lauren Cuthbertson in June 2008, following well-received performances in Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Opera House....

.

2005: American Ballet Theatre; Ashton

Ashton's Sylvia was also recently re-staged by Christopher Newton
Christopher Newton
Christopher Newton is a Canadian director and actor and served as Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival from 1980-2002.Newton was born in England and educated at Sir Roger Manwood's School in Kent, the University of Leeds, Purdue University in Indiana and the University of Illinois, where he...

 for The Metropolitan Opera House
Metropolitan Opera
The Metropolitan Opera is an opera company, located in New York City. Originally founded in 1880, the company gave its first performance on October 22, 1883. The company is operated by the non-profit Metropolitan Opera Association, with Peter Gelb as general manager...

, where it was recently performed by the American Ballet Theatre
American Ballet Theatre
American Ballet Theatre , based in New York City, was one of the foremost ballet companies of the 20th century. It continues as a leading dance company in the world today...

. Newton's version is shortened (originally the ballet included some music from La Source) to be shown in two acts, with a musical break in place of the second intermission.
The last production at the Metropolitan Opera, as of June 4, 2005, had Paloma Herrera
Paloma Herrera
Paloma Herrera , is a principal ballet dancer with the American Ballet Theatre.Ms. Herrera was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and began studying ballet there at the age of seven with teacher Olga Ferri...

 cast as Sylvia, Angel Corella
Angel Corella
Ángel Corella is a Spanish dancer, currently the Artistic Director and principal dancer of Corella Ballet Castilla Y León as well as principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre...

 as Aminta, Jesus Pastor as Orion, Craig Salstein as Eros and Carmen Corella as Diana.

Style

Sylvia is generally considered a classical ballet
Classical ballet
Classical Ballet is the most formal of the ballet styles, it adheres to traditional ballet technique. There are variations relating to area of origin, such as Russian ballet, French ballet, British ballet and Italian ballet...

. It features a nondescript mythical setting and a late nineteenth-century score, both of which give it an old-fashioned feel. In many ways, however, it was quite revolutionary for its time. The score was and still is recognized for its greatness. Delibes' work is certainly the best appreciated aspect of the ballet for its innovation, creativity, and maturity. Frederick Ashton's choreography complements the music very well in this respect, staying true to the spirit of the original production while incorporating modern techniques and adding his own unique touch.

Music

Sylvia, and Coppélia
Coppélia
Coppélia is a sentimental comic ballet with original choreography by Arthur Saint-Léon to a ballet libretto by Saint-Léon and Charles Nuitter and music by Léo Delibes. It was based upon two macabre stories by E. T. A. Hoffmann, Der Sandmann , and Die Puppe...

before it, are often touted as two of the first modern ballets for their novel scores. Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russian: Пётр Ильи́ч Чайко́вский ; often "Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky" in English. His names are also transliterated "Piotr" or "Petr"; "Ilitsch", "Il'ich" or "Illyich"; and "Tschaikowski", "Tschaikowsky", "Chajkovskij"...

 himself remarked to fellow composer Sergei Taneyev
Sergei Taneyev
Sergei Ivanovich Taneyev , was a Russian composer, pianist, teacher of composition, music theorist and author.-Life:...

 upon the ingenuity of Sylvia, calling it "...the first ballet, where the music constitutes not only the main, but the only interest. What charm, what elegance, what richness of melody, rhythm, harmony." While this statement may be a little hyperbolic, it says something very important about the uniqueness of the ballet. Sylvia's score is varied and rich, and it stands out, drawing the focus from the sets, the dancers, the costumes. Instead of receding into the background, setting only the mood, Delibes' score sets the action. The music of Sylvia was also notable for its new, more developed use of leitmotif
Leitmotif
A leitmotif , sometimes written leit-motif, is a musical term , referring to a recurring theme, associated with a particular person, place, or idea. It is closely related to the musical idea of idée fixe...

s. Such a stylistic choice is characteristic of Delibes, who was a great admirer of Wagner
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

. Indeed, echoes of Wagner's influence are quite obvious in the music such as its "symphonic" nature, as described by Ivor Forbes Guest
Ivor Forbes Guest
Ivor Forbes Guest DUniv MA FRAD worked professionally as a lawyer, but is best known as a historian for his study of ballet. He was chairman of the Royal Academy of Dance for thirty years and has been a Vice President since 1993 and Secretary then Trustee of the Radcliffe Trust...

 in the 1954 edition of The Ballet Annual.

Another interesting choice of Delibes was his pronounced use of brass and wind instruments, especially in the characteristically powerful prelude
Prelude (music)
A prelude is a short piece of music, the form of which may vary from piece to piece. The prelude can be thought of as a preface. It may stand on its own or introduce another work...

. Delibes was also one of the first composers to write for the alto saxophone
Alto saxophone
The alto saxophone is a member of the saxophone family of woodwind instruments invented by Belgian instrument designer Adolphe Sax in 1841. It is smaller than the tenor but larger than the soprano, and is the type most used in classical compositions...

, an instrument which is used extensively in the heavier wind
Wind instrument
A wind instrument is a musical instrument that contains some type of resonator , in which a column of air is set into vibration by the player blowing into a mouthpiece set at the end of the resonator. The pitch of the vibration is determined by the length of the tube and by manual modifications of...

 sections such as the barcarolle
Barcarolle
A barcarole is a folk song sung by Venetian gondoliers, or a piece of music composed in that style...

 in Act III.

This already notable score is significantly more famous for two specific sections, the prelude to the first act and the pizzicati in the third. The latter, the more famous, is a well-known example of pizzicato
Pizzicato
Pizzicato is a playing technique that involves plucking the strings of a string instrument. The exact technique varies somewhat depending on the type of stringed instrument....

 style. This section is, according to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, "traditionally played in a halting, hesitant style that appears to have been no part of Delibes's conception."

Choreography

Choreographically, Sylvia was also ahead of its time. Merante's 1876 choreography (and all subsequent) was considered quite rebellious for casting ballerinas as masculine huntresses, unheard of at the time. Despite such innovations, the original choreography for Sylvia was still very much of late Romantic
Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

-era ballet.
Ashton's Sylvia is much more contemporary, and while retaining a classic feel, it has been modernized. In the 1952 choreography, Sylvia incorporated new and interesting techniques such as the blending of mime and dance and more intricate footwork, as are typical of Ashton's works. As writer Arnold Haskell
Arnold Haskell
Arnold Lionel Haskell was a British dance critic who founded the Camargo Society in 1930. With Ninette de Valois, he was influential in the development of the Royal Ballet School, later becoming the school's headmaster.He became fascinated by ballet when his mother prevailed on him to come with...

 said, "... he accepts the challenge in Sylvia of coping with period music without descending to pastiche; and never once does the movement he provides strike us as modern or as ‘old world’". This choreography was very challenging, noted Gillian Murphy
Gillian Murphy
Gillian Murphy is a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre.Murphy was born in Wimbledon, England and took her first ballet class at the age of three in Belgium while her father was working overseas...

, the lead rôle in the current production of ABT (as of 2005), especially for her. Ashton designed the ballet specifically around Margot Fonteyn's talent and skill. Thus, any who play the part must be able to do everything she could, and at the time "the range of her dancing [was] unequalled"(Barnes).

It is notable that this choreography features a few difficult pas de deux
Pas de deux
In ballet, a pas de deux is a duet in which ballet dancers perform the dance together. It usually consists of an entrée, adagio, two variations , and a coda.-Notable Pas de deux:...

, including a spectacular one in the third act, which constitutes the climax of the ballet.

Influence

The most endearing aspect of Sylvia is the brilliant composition, so most of its influence on the world has been musical. Its influence on Swan Lake
Swan Lake
Swan Lake ballet, op. 20, by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, composed 1875–1876. The scenario, initially in four acts, was fashioned from Russian folk tales and tells the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer's curse. The choreographer of the original production was Julius Reisinger...

has been particularly noted. This famous ballet was written just before Sylvia was released and is generally considered one of the best ballets of the era. However, Tchaikovsky himself, the composer of Swan Lake, preferred Sylvia to his own work, calling his own masterpiece "poor stuff in comparison". Tchaikovsky said to Sergei Taneyev
Sergei Taneyev
Sergei Ivanovich Taneyev , was a Russian composer, pianist, teacher of composition, music theorist and author.-Life:...

, "I was ashamed. If I had known this music early then, of course, I would not have written Swan Lake". Sylvia has since influenced many other composers and choreographers, such as George Balanchine
George Balanchine
George Balanchine , born Giorgi Balanchivadze in Saint Petersburg, Russia, to a Georgian father and a Russian mother, was one of the 20th century's most famous choreographers, a developer of ballet in the United States, co-founder and balletmaster of New York City Ballet...

, D'Indy
Vincent d'Indy
Vincent d'Indy was a French composer and teacher.-Life:Paul Marie Théodore Vincent d'Indy was born in Paris into an aristocratic family of royalist and Catholic persuasion. He had piano lessons from an early age from his paternal grandmother, who passed him on to Antoine François Marmontel and...

, Saint-Saëns
Camille Saint-Saëns
Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns was a French Late-Romantic composer, organist, conductor, and pianist. He is known especially for The Carnival of the Animals, Danse macabre, Samson and Delilah, Piano Concerto No. 2, Cello Concerto No. 1, Havanaise, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, and his Symphony...

 and Debussy
Claude Debussy
Claude-Achille Debussy was a French composer. Along with Maurice Ravel, he was one of the most prominent figures working within the field of impressionist music, though he himself intensely disliked the term when applied to his compositions...

.

Lead rôles

  • Sylvia – A chaste huntress nymph, loyal to Diana
    Diana (mythology)
    In Roman mythology, Diana was the goddess of the hunt and moon and birthing, being associated with wild animals and woodland, and having the power to talk to and control animals. She was equated with the Greek goddess Artemis, though she had an independent origin in Italy...

    , object of Aminta's desire.
  • Aminta – A simple shepherd boy who is in love with Sylvia. Parallels can be drawn to Endymion
    Endymion (mythology)
    In Greek mythology, Endymion , was variously a handsome Aeolian shepherd or hunter or a king who ruled and was said to reside at Olympia in Elis, but he was also said to reside and was venerated on Mount Latmus in Caria, on the west coast of Asia Minor....

    , another shepherd who was Diana's young love.
  • Eros – The Greek
    Greek mythology
    Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

     god of love, focal in the ballet as an object of great worship and scorn.
  • Diana
    Diana (mythology)
    In Roman mythology, Diana was the goddess of the hunt and moon and birthing, being associated with wild animals and woodland, and having the power to talk to and control animals. She was equated with the Greek goddess Artemis, though she had an independent origin in Italy...

    – The Roman
    Roman mythology
    Roman mythology is the body of traditional stories pertaining to ancient Rome's legendary origins and religious system, as represented in the literature and visual arts of the Romans...

     goddess of the hunt and chastity. It is at Diana's temple that the bacchanal in the third act takes place.
  • Orion – An evil hunter who stalks Sylvia and kidnaps her.

Source:

Minor rôles

  • Hunt attendants—Sylvia's posse of female hunters.
  • Goats -Two goats that are about to be sacrificed as a tribute to Bacchus
    Dionysus
    Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. His name in Linear B tablets shows he was worshipped from c. 1500—1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks: other traces of Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete...

    , but are saved by the commotion caused by Orion.
  • Naiads
  • Dryads
  • Fauns
  • Peasants

Source:

Libretto

 —Sir Frederick Ashton, who choreographed Sylvia in 1952.


The libretto
Libretto
A libretto is the text used in an extended musical work such as an opera, operetta, masque, oratorio, cantata, or musical. The term "libretto" is also sometimes used to refer to the text of major liturgical works, such as mass, requiem, and sacred cantata, or even the story line of a...

 of Sylvia is often regarded as one of the ballet's weak points. The simple plot does not allow for much acting nor is it especially gripping. Indeed, when Frederick Ashton rechoreographed the ballet in the 1950s, he tried to rework the story to be more interesting (while still retaining its classical themes) because he recognized this aspect of the ballet as a potential pitfall. Morris simplified the story — for his 2004 production — for the same reasons. He called it, "a big wonderful mishmash of mythology and history", so he changed it to make it more, "clear and beautiful".

Act I: A Sacred Wood

The ballet begins with a scene of worship as creatures of the forest dance before Eros. Aminta, a lowly shepherd, stumbles in on them, disrupting their ritual. Now Sylvia, the object of Aminta's desire, arrives on the scene with her posse of hunters to mock the god of love. Aminta attempts to conceal himself, but Sylvia eventually discovers her stalker and, inflamed, turns her bow towards Eros. Aminta protects the deity and is himself wounded. Eros in turn shoots Sylvia. She is hit, and though not badly wounded, the injury is enough to drive her offstage.

A hunter, Orion, is revealed to also have been watching Sylvia, when he is seen celebrating the unconscious Aminta. Orion conceals himself again as Sylvia returns; this time she is sympathetic towards Aminta. As the huntress laments over her victim, she is kidnapped by Orion and carried off. Peasants grieve over Aminta's figure until a cloaked Eros revives the shepherd. Eros reveals his true identity and informs Aminta of Orion's actions.

Act II: Orion's Island Cave

Captive in Orion's island hideout, Sylvia is tempted by him with jewels and wine to no avail. Sylvia now grieves over Aminta, cherishing the arrow pulled from her breast nostalgically. When Orion steals it from her, Sylvia gets her captor drunk until he is unconscious, whereby she retrieves her arrow and appeals to Eros for help. Sylvia's invocations are not in vain, for Eros quickly arrives and shows his summoner a vision of Aminta waiting for her. The duo depart for the temple of Diana
Diana (mythology)
In Roman mythology, Diana was the goddess of the hunt and moon and birthing, being associated with wild animals and woodland, and having the power to talk to and control animals. She was equated with the Greek goddess Artemis, though she had an independent origin in Italy...

, where Sylvia's love awaits.

Act III: The Sea Coast near the Temple of Diana

Aminta arrives at the temple of Diana to find a bacchanal but no Sylvia, who will soon arrive with Eros. After a few moments of mirth at the reunion, Orion shows up, seeking Sylvia. He and Aminta fight; Sylvia barricades herself in Diana's shrine and Orion attempts to follow. The goddess of the hunt, outraged at this act, smites Orion and denies Aminta and Sylvia congress. Compassionate Eros gives Diana a vision. The goddess reminisces over her own young love of Endymion
Endymion (mythology)
In Greek mythology, Endymion , was variously a handsome Aeolian shepherd or hunter or a king who ruled and was said to reside at Olympia in Elis, but he was also said to reside and was venerated on Mount Latmus in Caria, on the west coast of Asia Minor....

, also a shepherd. Diana has a change of heart and repeals her decree. Aminta and Sylvia come together under the deities' good will.

Résumé of dances and scenes








Act I

  • №01 Prélude
  • №02 Les faunes et dryades
  • №03 Le berger
  • №04 Grand pas des chasseresses
  • №05 Intermezzo
  • №06 Valse lente
  • №07 Scène
  • №08 Cortège rustique
  • №09 Scène
  • №10 Finale—Entrée du sorcier


Act II

  • №11 Entr’acte
  • №12 La grotte d’Orion
  • №13 Pas des Éthiopiens
  • №14 Chant bacchique
  • №15 Scène et danse de la Bacchante
  • №16 Scène finale



Act III

  • №17 Grand cortège de Bacchus
  • №18 Scène
  • №19 Danse barcarolle

  • Divertissement—
    • №20 Variation dansée (Pizzicati)
    • №21 Pas d’andante
    • №22 Pas des esclaves
    • №23 Variation dansée (valse)
    • №24 Galop générale

  • №25 Finale—Le temple De Diane
  • №26 Apothéose—L’apparition d’Endymion


List of productions

Premiere Ballet company Choreographer Original leads Notes Source
June 14, 1876 Paris Opera Ballet
Paris Opera Ballet
The Paris Opera Ballet is the oldest national ballet company in the world, and many European and international ballet companies can trace their origins to it...

Mérante
Louis Mérante
Louis Alexandre Mérante was a dancer and choreographer, the Maître de Ballet of the Paris Opera Ballet at the Salle Le Peletier until its destruction by fire in 1873, and subsequently the first Ballet Master at the company's new Palais Garnier, which opened in 1875...

Rita Sangalli World premiere
1892 Paris Opera Ballet Mérante Rosita Mauri
Rosita Mauri
Rosita Isabel Armanda Mauri or Roseta Mauri y Segura was a dancer and ballet teacher of Catalan origin.-Career:...

Sets lost in a fire after 2 years
December 15, 1901 Imperial Ballet
Mariinsky Ballet
The Mariinsky Ballet is a classical ballet company based at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Founded in the 18th century and originally known as the Imperial Russian Ballet, the Mariinsky Ballet is one of the world's leading ballet companies...

Ivanov
Lev Ivanov
Lev Ivanovich Ivanov was a Russian ballet dancer and choreographer and later, Second Balletmaster of the Imperial Ballet....

; Gerdt
Pavel Gerdt
Pavel Andreyevich Gerdt, also known as Paul Gerdt , was the Premier Danseur Noble of the Imperial Ballet, the Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, and the Mariinsky Theatre for 56 years, making his debut in 1860, and retiring in 1916...

; Legat
Olga Preobrajenska
Olga Preobrajenska
Olga Iosifovna Preobrajenska was probably the best loved ballerina of the Russian Imperial Ballet....

Prompted Diaghilev's emigration from Russia.
1911 Liverpool Empire Theatre
Liverpool Empire Theatre
Liverpool Empire Theatre is located on the corner of Lime Street and London Road in Liverpool, Merseyside, England. The theatre is the second to be built on the site, and was opened in 1925. It has the largest two-tier auditorium in Britain and can seat 2,350 people...

Wilhelm Unknown None
December 19, 1919 Paris Opera Ballet Staats Carlotta Zambelli None
1941 Paris Opera Ballet Lifar
Serge Lifar
Serge Lifar ; 15 December 1986) was a French ballet dancer and choreographer of Ukrainian origin, famous as one of the greatest male ballet dancers of the 20th century.-Biography:Lifar was born in Kiev, Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire...

Susanne Lorcia; Solange Schwarz None
December 1, 1950 New York City Ballet
New York City Ballet
New York City Ballet is a ballet company founded in 1948 by choreographer George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein. Leon Barzin was the company's first music director. Balanchine and Jerome Robbins are considered the founding choreographers of the company...

Balanchine
George Balanchine
George Balanchine , born Giorgi Balanchivadze in Saint Petersburg, Russia, to a Georgian father and a Russian mother, was one of the 20th century's most famous choreographers, a developer of ballet in the United States, co-founder and balletmaster of New York City Ballet...

Maria Tallchief
Maria Tallchief
Maria Tallchief was the first native-American prima ballerina. From 1942 to 1947 she danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, but she is best known for her time with the New York City Ballet from 1947 to 1965.-Early life:...

; Nicholas Magallanes
Nicholas Magallanes
Nicholas Magallanes was a first-generation principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. Along with Jerome Robbins, Francisco Moncion and Maria Tallchief, Magallanes was among the core group of dancers with which George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein formed the New York City Ballet in 1948...

Shortened version
September 3, 1952 Royal Ballet Ashton
Frederick Ashton
Sir Frederick William Mallandaine Ashton OM, CH, CBE was a leading international dancer and choreographer. He is most noted as the founder choreographer of The Royal Ballet in London, but also worked as a director and choreographer of opera, film and theatre revues.-Early life:Ashton was born at...

Margot Fonteyn
Margot Fonteyn
Dame Margot Fonteyn de Arias, DBE , was an English ballerina of the 20th century. She is widely regarded as one of the greatest classical ballet dancers of all time...

; Michael Somes
Michael Somes
Michael George Somes CBE , was a leading English ballet dancer. He was a principal danseur of the Royal Ballet, London, and was the frequent partner of Margot Fonteyn....

Best-known production
August 20, 1964 American Ballet Theatre
American Ballet Theatre
American Ballet Theatre , based in New York City, was one of the foremost ballet companies of the 20th century. It continues as a leading dance company in the world today...

Balanchine Sonia Arova
Sonia Arova
Sonia Arova , born was a Bulgarian ballerina.She was born as Sonia Errio in Sofia, Bulgaria, and began her training in Paris. With the beginning of the Second World War, she barely escaped the Nazi advance through a reckless flight which was attacked by German planes...

; Royes Fernandez
Reproduction of 1950. First showing in US.
June 9, 1965 Royal Ballet touring section Ashton Margot Fonteyn; Attilio Labis
Attilio Labis
Attilio Labis was a French ballet dancer in the Paris Opera Ballet. He was one of its étoile from 1960 to 1972...

Abridged third act and new variation for Aminta
December 18, 1967 Royal Ballet Ashton with some alterations Nadia Nerina
Nadia Nerina
Nadia Nerina was a South African ballerina. She moved to England and joined the Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet, where she became a prima ballerina at the age of 25. She was one of the first western dancers to appear with the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow during the Cold War...

; Gary Sherwood
One act
1979 Paris Opera Ballet; Central Ballet of China Darsonval Noella Pontois; Jean-Yves Lormeau; Cyril Atanasoff None
1993 Birmingham Royal Ballet
Birmingham Royal Ballet
Birmingham Royal Ballet is one of the three major ballet companies of the United Kingdom, alongside the Royal Ballet and the English National Ballet....

Bintley
David Bintley
David Bintley, CBE, is a former English ballet dancer, the current artistic director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet and co-artistic director of the New National Theatre Tokyo ballet company.- About :...

Miyako Yoshida
Miyako Yoshida
Miyako Yoshida is a Japanese ballet dancer. She was a Principal Guest Artist of The Royal Ballet as well as a Principal dancer in K-ballet, Japan.-Biography:...

None
1997 Paris Opera Ballet Neumeier
John Neumeier
John Neumeier is a well-known American ballet dancer, choreographer, and director. He has been the director and chief choreographer of the Hamburg Ballet since 1973. 5 years later he founded the Hamburg Ballet School, which also includes a boarding school...

Aurelie Dupont
Aurelie Dupont
Aurélie Dupont is a French ballet dancer who performs with the Paris Opera Ballet as an Étoile. She began her career in dance at the age of ten when she entered the Paris Opera Ballet School after giving up her hopes of being a pianist...

; Manuel Legris
Manuel Legris
Manuel Legris is a French ballet dancer, born in Paris on October 10, 1964. He was a star dancer of the Paris Opera Ballet for 23 years. Since September 1, 2010, he has directed the Vienna State Opera Ballet....

This production was subtitled, Three Choreographic Poems on a Mythical Theme and made almost no use of Barbier's plot.
2004 The Royal Ballet Ashton Darcey Bussell
Darcey Bussell
Darcey Andrea Bussell CBE is a retired English ballerina. Trained at the Arts Educational School and the Royal Ballet School, she was later employed by the Royal Ballet, where she was promoted to the rank of Principal Dancer and would become recognised as one of the greatest English ballerinas of...

, Zenaida Yanowsky
Zenaida Yanowsky
Zenaida Yanowsky is a Principal Dancer with the Royal Ballet in London.-Early life:Both of her parents, Anatol Yanowsky and Carmen Robles, were dancers with the Lyon Opera Ballet. Later, the family moved to settle in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, where her parents set up a dance school...

 or Marianela Nunez
Marianela Nunez
Marianela Núñez is an Argentine dancer. She is a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, London.-Biography:Núñez was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina...

Recently shown
April 30, 2004 San Francisco Ballet
San Francisco Ballet
The San Francisco Ballet is a ballet company, founded in 1933 as the San Francisco Opera Ballet. The company is currently based in the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, under the direction of Helgi Tomasson. SFB is the first professional ballet company in the United States...

Morris
Mark Morris
Mark William Morris is an American dancer, choreographer and director whose work is acclaimed for its craftsmanship, ingenuity, humor, and at times eclectic musical accompaniments...

Yuan Yuan Tan
Yuan Yuan Tan
Yuanyuan Tan She won multiple international awards at an early age; including a gold medal and the Nijinsky Award at the 1st Japan International Ballet and Modern Dance Competition and a gold medal in the 5th International Ballet Competition in Paris . At age 18, she became a soloist dancer with...

, Yuri Possokhov
Recently shown
June 4, 2005 American Ballet Theatre Ashton Paloma Herrera
Paloma Herrera
Paloma Herrera , is a principal ballet dancer with the American Ballet Theatre.Ms. Herrera was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and began studying ballet there at the age of seven with teacher Olga Ferri...

; Angel Corella
Angel Corella
Ángel Corella is a Spanish dancer, currently the Artistic Director and principal dancer of Corella Ballet Castilla Y León as well as principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre...

Recently shown; only 2 acts


This list mentions only full-length or otherwise significant productions; however, there have been many performances of short excerpts, especially in London.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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